Paris, therefore, freed from worry from this source, went its usual way at night and crowds thronged the Montmartre district, the quarter inhabited by the student and demi-monde class. Most of the theatres were in that quarter, and, although the majority of the regular playhouses were closed, the picture shows and music halls, such as the "Folies Bergeres" were crowded nightly.
There were two performances a week in the Grand Opera House, consisting of acts from different operas. The "Comedie Francaise" the Government endowed theatre, still gave performances at regular intervals, which in perfection of acting were, as always, unequalled anywhere in the world.
The Opera Comique also gave grand opera on Sunday afternoons, and the one performance that I was fortunate enough to see—Carmen—was the most perfect production of grand opera that I have ever seen or heard. From the standpoint of the critic I could find no flaw, and though Carmen is not a favorite of mine, I revelled in the perfection of staging, acting and singing of this performance. The street and mob scenes were so realistic that one forgot that they were not real street scenes; the acting of the singers was so fine that one was carried away by it and forgot all about the wooden acting of grand opera customary in America and England; and it was only when the curtain finally rang down that one realized that the flawless performance had been but a play.
The restaurants on the Rue des Italiens, near the Place de L'Opera in the Montmartre district were thronged with people. The weather was warm enough for the crowds to sit at the tables under the awnings in front of cafes and sip their wine or coffee, and there I spent many a half hour after my evening lesson in French, watching the crowds surging up and down the broad sidewalk.
Men were scarce in Paris, particularly men of military age. A few "Poilus" home on leave, and a number of Belgians, with a sprinking of other soldiers, were the only evidences of war. The men seen were practically all over the military age. It was the golden age for the "has been"; the old man had again come into his own.
The girl of the demi-mondaine was having a hard time of it in Paris. There was no travelling public such as usually thronged Paris in search of pleasure and excitement and upon which she had been accustomed to batten. She was therefore forced to take up with an older and often inferior class of men which she would have scorned in times of peace.
Rumour said that many of these women were starving, and judging by the voracious manner in which they tackled pedestrians openly on the streets at night there was ample ground for that belief. Men were followed and grabbed by the arm who had no intention or desire to make or receive any overtures.
It was so different to what one had heard of the French women of the street that it came as a great revelation of how the times were out of joint, and how difficult it really must have been for such people to obtain the money necessary to live. One would have expected cruder things in London but such was not the case, though there is this difference that solicitation is not permitted on the streets of London while it is in Paris.
Official Paris allows the people within its gates to do as they like in matters of morals without let or hindrance. And so the "Petite Parisienne" whose man had gone to the war and perhaps had been killed, took to the streets again in search of another, and was forced to take up with men she would have despised in other times.
English speaking people have no idea of the Parisian viewpoint on questions of morality; in fact our view points are so diametrically opposed to one another that we have no common ground for discussion. The average Parisienne of the street is not immoral; she is unmoral, that is to say she has no morals because she never did have any. She has been accustomed to look upon herself as a commodity of barter and trade and we cannot in fairness judge her as we judge women who have been brought up to other ideals.
As I sat sipping my coffee one evening one of these women leaned across the aisle and entered into conversation. As she rattled away a poorly-clad child selling bunches of violets approached and looking at me placed a bouquet on the table beside me. Mechanically I put my hand into my pocket for a penny, but by the time I had found it to my surprise the child had passed on. The woman stared at me and at the retreating child and asked, "What did she do that for?"
"Perhaps because I smiled at her," I said.
The woman asked no more questions but got up and walked away; the child's action had touched her as it had touched me and I like to remember that on four different occasions little French children, strangers to me had given me in this same sweet way flowers that they might have sold.
The English soldier was popular in Paris. Before the city had been put out of bounds for the British Army it had been a favorite resort of men and officers, who had made a great reputation with the Parisians for being courteous, kind and liberal. The Belgians on the other hand were quite unpopular, being openly called "dirty Belgians" and, judging from my own personal observation, there was a certain amount of reason for this disrespect.
Towards nine o'clock, when the lights were lowered, the genuine Parisian who had been dining in the cafes began to go home, as did the successful women and their consorts, causing the crowds to become perceptibly thinner. Those women who had not been successful, redoubled their efforts, and it was really pathetic to see the attempts of some of these poor outcasts who were little more than children, to capture their prey.
At midnight the Place de L'Opera was absolutely deserted. On two occasions I watched this strange fascinating panorama of human life and emotion, forgetful of the time, and found myself quite alone there as the clock struck the midnight hour. Alone I watched the moonlight streaming down upon the Grand Opera house transforming it into the purest marble.
I wondered whether it was all a dream. Could it be really true that I was there in Paris in the middle of the great war? Was it possible that the greatest battle of all time was taking place at the very moment not sixty miles away? Yet it was a real "Bon soir" that a passing gendarme gave me as I strolled homeward past the great bronze shaft erected by Napoleon in the Place Vendome and now towering black in the white moonlight, while the river Seine shimmered like molten silver in its way to the sea. It was really true but it was one of those times when a soldier in Europe finds it very difficult to accommodate himself to the violent contrasts which he is constantly meeting, when transferred suddenly from the war zone back into the peaceful life of the civilian.
The quiet and dignified Hotel Lotti on the Place Vendome was described in the guide books as frequented by the French nobility and the aristocracy; the claim proved to be correct for when I was there two French countesses, an English knight and a Duke had apartments there. The Hotel Lotti is next door to the Hotel Continental and is owned by the former manager of that Hotel. Both the Hotel Continental and the Meurice across the road are supposed to be particularly fine and "splashy."
Shortly after we came, the Prince of Serbia arrived in Paris and stayed at the Hotel Continental. At the same time representatives of all the allied governments arrived and stayed at one or other of these hotels. There was a guard of Serbian soldiers always at the entrance to the Continental as well as a crowd of onlookers which sometimes swelled to tremendous proportions. The newspapers chronicled the movements of the Serbian prince and when it was announced that he was to leave the hotel the traffic on the street was blocked with cheering crowds.
If I heard the Marseillaise sung once I heard it sung twenty times by the throng on the street below my windows, for the Prince of Serbia was the symbol to France of that brave people whose valour had won for themselves immortal renown and had captured the imagination of the French people. The French are certainly a nation of hero worshippers and though they no longer recognize an official nobility they do dearly love a title.
The same kind of demonstrations took place when Lord Kitchener and Asquith drove through the streets. Everywhere they went the roads were lined with the dark blue uniforms of the national guard, the gendarmes and some of the territorials in their light blue service dress.
Then French soldiers lining the route across the Place de la Concorde on the day when we drew up to see Lord Kitchener, Mr. Asquith, General Cadorna of Italy and other foreign representatives pass, looked small and insignificant in their, to us, sloppy uniforms; yet those were of the race "who had threshed the men and kissed the women of all Europe"—the soldier, which through all the centuries since the time of Julius Caesar, had shown the most consistent fighting ability of any nation in Europe. Their soldiers at that very moment were fighting for their very existence and week after week were pouring out their best blood in torrents on the battlefield of Verdun, demonstrating to the world the possession of qualities which we had prided ourselves belonged to the Teutonic races and particularly to Britons,—the quality of "sticking it."
They are a wonderful people, the French, marvellous in their spirit of self sacrifice. The French woman does not weep when her son or husband goes to war. No, he goes to serve "La Patrie" that word for which we have no synonym, the something which is greater than everything else, for which all must be sacrificed with joy. France is a name to conjure with; it is an ideal as well as a country, for it embodies all that Frenchmen have fought and died for in all the centuries.
Paris had never before seemed half so clean, but this is the impression that you always get when you return to it. Perhaps it was the contrast with the filthy, muddy streets of the little northern villages in the war zone,—streets traversed daily by hundreds of motor lorries and thousands of men each of whom brings in, from the surrounding country, a certain amount of dirt.
On Sunday morning towards eleven o'clock the great avenue—Le Bois—leading towards St. Cloud, was crowded with the better class of Parisians, all wending their way to the woods and parks for the day. They were there in tens of thousands, on foot and in taxis, and very frequently carrying lunch baskets.
Never does one see such a smartly dressed crowd of women as one sees in Paris. No matter what the combination of colour, no matter what the style, they look well, for they have the national gift of knowing how to wear their clothes. Even the widows in mourning, and there were many of them, looked most interesting. French women have a grace of carriage and know how to walk, which is in striking contrast to the majority of English, Canadian or American women. It is the ensemble which gives the Parisienne that air of distinction which is so characteristic.
The children were dressed in the styles which are usually seen only in the fashion plates and as much pride and thought was evidently spent upon them as on the dress of the mothers themselves. The French children in Paris are particularly well behaved and obedient.
The trees in Le Bois were just bursting into leaf on that first Sunday of mid March. The rented boats on the little lakes were filled with young boys and their sweethearts, and they splashed up and down and ran into each other, and made much noise after the manner of people of that age under similar circumstances the world over.
Crossing the Seine we ascended the hill to the race course of St. Cloud, from which a magnificent view of Paris is obtainable. It was a splendid situation for the French Canadian hospital established there under the command of Lt.-Col. Mignault of Montreal.
The French authorities did not want the wounded from Verdun to come to the Paris hospitals, for it might depress the people too much. So, though Verdun was at its height, no wounded were seen in Paris and the hospitals in fact were almost empty at the time. And as the Parisians did not see any evidence of great losses through the presence of wounded, it was quite natural to conclude that there could not be many wounded. If not why worry, for the newspapers were full of the tremendous casualties inflicted on the enemy? The French army must be very good to be able to hold the German back like that, must it not? So Paris was optimistic and the wounded went elsewhere to the country where it was said the air was much better than in a large city like Paris.
The French Canadian hospital, however, was not going to be done out of the work that they had come so far to do, and demanded patients. As the hospital was situated in the suburbs (where the air was presumably good) permission was granted and it was filled with wounded from Verdun on the following day.
Though not fully completed when I saw it, the hospital was in running order. It consisted of a series of wooden huts arranged in the area behind the grand stand, and had just enough shade trees around to shelter the huts partially from the sun. It was always a marvel to me to see soldiers recovering from what have always been considered to be fatal wounds. I saw one man that day at St. Cloud who had been shot through the centre of the forehead two days before at Verdun, the bullet coming out of the top of his head, and leaving the brain exposed. The man was sitting up in bed reading and when the wet dressing was raised by the surgeon one could see the brain pulsating.
Of the meetings of the War Allies' Sanitary Commission there is little to be said because they were of a technical nature, and chiefly of interest to scientists. The first meeting was held on March the 15th and one was held thereafter every afternoon for the next three weeks, with the exception of Sundays. About thirty-five delegates were present altogether, representing the civilian, naval and military services of Russia, Italy, Serbia, France, Belgium and Great Britain.
At each session some subject on sanitation was discussed according to a program decided upon the previous day. Some countries had already had experiences with certain epidemics, which were quite unknown as yet to the other allied countries; in such a case the experience gained by one country in devising ways and means of stamping out an epidemic would be of great interest and practical value to the other countries.
A striking example of this was the experience of Serbia with typhus fever. Typhus is conveyed from man to man through the bites of lice infected through biting some one who already has the disease. Serbia had had a tremendous epidemic of the disease both in the army and in the civilian population, and had had to resort to all kinds of improvised means of controlling lice when their regular disinfecting apparatus had been lost or destroyed during their retreat. Naturally the experience of Serbia was of the greatest interest to all the other armies which were also lice-infected but had had no typhus fever as yet.
All the discussions were conducted in French, and curious to relate the non-French Allies understood one another more readily if possible than they did the French themselves, largely due to the fact that the latter talked so rapidly. Many scientists of great note were present, among them being M. Roux who had succeeded M. Pasteur as chief of the Pasteur Institute in Paris. He was by far the easiest speaker of all to follow,—so easy in fact that I constantly congratulated myself on my knowledge of French when he was speaking, only to sadly admit when the next Frenchman began that I had still a long, long way to go.
Every morning the five of us who were representatives of the British army, Australia and Canada, met and drafted our joint report of the previous day's meeting for submission to our respective governments when the Congress would be over; many days of labor were thereby saved since the report was complete when the meetings ended. This used up the mornings, and the regular meetings took up the afternoons till five o'clock. Every evening I took a lesson in French conversation so that there was not much time for sight seeing even if there had been anything to see. It was in reality three weeks of hard work yet I managed to see quite a bit of Paris and of what was going on in our spare half hours and the two or three half days during which no meetings were held.
Some of the delegates were very remarkable men. The Frenchmen were all scientists of note. One of the Serbian delegates had been continuously in the battle field for four years and was thoroughly tired of war. He was a handsome and very interesting man. In fact all the Serbs whom I saw in Paris were big, fine-looking men.
The chief Russian delegate was a prince, a lieutenant-general of cavalry, and a wonderfully well informed scientist. Though a man over sixty years of age and without a medical degree, he seemed to be perfectly informed in every question relating to bacteriology, chemistry, sanitation and medicine and would put the average notable medical officer of health to shame. He was to all of us a perfect marvel. He spoke English and French fluently and had the keenest sense of humour of any member of the congress, constantly enlivening the proceedings by his witty and humorous remarks.
One day the Commission visited the French storehouses in Paris, where all the drugs, medical and sanitary supplies for the French army were kept. Something of the magnitude of the war being conducted by the French could be gauged by the enormous warehouses, packed to the roof with medical supplies for the army.
We also visited the series of wooden buildings being erected to house the Red Cross supplies sent to France as gifts from other countries. The Canadian building was the only one completed and stocked and we were shown that as a sample of the others; all the French representatives were very careful to explain to me individually that Canada had been very good and more than kind in remembering France.
The Russian Prince, who objected strenuously to this trip, vented his satire during the whole of the afternoon. We would, perhaps be ushered into a huge warehouse packed with wooden boxes to the ceiling, when the Prince would adjust his eyeglasses and looking them over with a comprehensive sweep of his hand say to me, for we travelled together that day,—"Ah, yes, boxes! how very interesting! do you know, Colonel, nothing gives me greater pleasure than spending the afternoon looking at piles of boxes?" Each syllable was so clearly and distinctly enunciated that the simplest remark made by this born comedian of a Prince was perfectly delightful, and we had a joyous afternoon together.
Pasteur is a name reverenced by one and all in France. The first question asked when you are introduced as a scientist to Frenchmen is, "Do you know our Pasteur and his work?" and when you reply in the affirmative they beam on you and look as if they wanted to kiss you.
The Pasteur Institute was devoted entirely to putting up the various sera, vaccines and other material required by the army in the field. We were shown over the Institute by M. Roux, the Director. The reverence with which each foreign delegate removed his hat as he approached the rooms where Pasteur had lived and worked was most impressive to the resident of a country where there was little reverence for anything in the way of ability of any sort except that for making money. Pasteur is buried in a mausoleum in the Institute and numerous tributes from societies and great men the world over testify to the esteem in which he was held by the thinking portion of the world.
One particularly interesting feature of the work of the Institute was the manufacture of a certain poison for rats in the trenches. Rats are a great nuisance and a possible source of plague to the armies in the field. In the Autumn the rats come into the trenches where there is an abundance of waste food, and are particularly numerous where there is lots of water near which they like to breed.
The method used to kill them is quite ingenious. The rats are fed at a certain time every day for about ten days, at the end of which they will come in large numbers almost on the minute. The poisoned food is then placed for them and a large proportion of the rats are destroyed. Where poison has once been tried it is useless to make any further attempts with the same poison for a long time to come, for the rats will refuse to touch it. The wholesale method outlined has been found in practise by the French to give the best results.
Our trip to the French front in the Champagne was interesting. Leaving the station one morning at eight we arrived at Chalons-sur-Marne about eleven and visited a couple of hospitals there. The hospitals were well equipped, and some of the surgical devices in use were new and exceedingly ingenious.
The most vivid impression which remains of those French hospitals, however, was the lack of fresh air in them; seldom have I breathed a more vitiated atmosphere. Though it was a warm, pleasant day outside, every window in the hospital was closed tight.
It is another indication of the strong scientific contradictions sometimes met with. Though, in theory, the French are most excellent sanitarians and as a country revere the name of Pasteur, while we have forgotten, if we ever did know, the name of Lister, in practice they are about as poor a nation in practical sanitation as it is possible to be. Imagine a hospital, thoroughly equipped and clean as a new pin, with such bad air that one of our party fainted and another had to leave in a hurry to escape the same fate.
After an excellent lunch at the town hotel we left by motors and char-a-banc for the field hospitals. The drive of some twelve miles was made over the chalk plains of the Champagne and the dense clouds of white dust, raised by the cars ahead, half smothered us. The only trees on this rolling country were scrub evergreens and only enough of these had been left for cover, the rest having been cut for stakes, and pit props. Through these bits of woods and across the open country ran the numerous white ditches used for reserve trenches.
The field hospitals themselves were as fine as I have ever seen in equipment and appearance. They consisted of series of huts, well laid out and with walks planted with trees and shrubs from the surrounding country. That was the artistic touch that made French field hospitals look better than the British hospitals. Wells had been sunk for hundreds of feet in the chalk, pumping engines installed, and disinfection chambers and baths built with a capacity of a thousand men a day.
While there we saw German aeroplanes being shelled and were much interested to note that the anti-air-craft fire of the French gunners was just as bad as that of the British.
On our return we visited a French mobile laboratory at Chalons, and were much struck by their method of running it; like our own Canadian laboratory they carried all their equipment in boxes which were conveyed by a single motor lorry.
We arrived in Paris at midnight tired and sleepy to find my trusty "Rad" waiting for me, and we drove home a load of thankful friends, while the rest of the delegates searched in vain for taxis which were unobtainable at that time of night.
A small item appearing in the Parisian journals on the following day made us think. It read, "Chalons-sur-Marne bombed by aeroplanes." Whether the aeroplanes that we had seen being shelled had carried back word that an expedition of some sort had been seen coming and going from Chalons in a large number of motors and whether they had suspected that it was the congress including Lord Kitchener, Mr. Asquith, General Cadorna and others will never be known; the fact seemed to be that Chalons had never been bombed before our visit.
The saddest and at the same time the most inspiring sight that it was my privilege to see in Paris or during the whole war was during our visit to the institutes for the maimed and blinded soldiers.
The institute for the maimed had for its purpose the starting out in life afresh men who had lost arms and legs in battle. The French are at the bottom an exceedingly practical people even if they do not appreciate fresh air as they might. They discovered very quickly that the first thing necessary in the treatment of disabled soldiers after they were ready to leave the hospitals was to make them realize that they were still valuable and useful members of society. To this end the soldier was fitted out with the best mechanical appliances in the way of wooden arms and legs that it was possible to give him; and it was characteristic of the French people that they had these artificial limbs made by the disabled soldiers themselves. This saved the labor of able bodied men and gave interesting and necessary work to the disabled soldiers.
The trades being taught were basket making, brush making, piano tuning, draughting, typewriting, tailoring, tinsmithing and so forth; while classes in reading, writing and other subjects were held for those who were deficient in these requirements, and anxious to learn. And here the astounding observation was made that in certain cases uneducated men have been able to learn more in six months than the average child learns in as many years. In such cases the individual has an extraordinary power of assimilation and simply "eats up" everything put before him. The maimed men were all happy and smoked and sang at their work. They were heroes still.
The school for the blind was, in some ways, of quite a different character. At the time of our visit there were about 350 soldiers in the school, learning to be self-reliant and useful citizens. Naturally it is a much more difficult task to teach a blind man than a maimed one that he is still a valuable asset to his country and the first weeks in the Institute are frequently devoted to convincing him of this cardinal fact. When he has learned to dress himself, get about alone and begins to learn a trade he becomes convinced of this truth and the victory has been won. For the appalling future facing him of a life in total darkness dependent on a wife or parents is too terrible a one for any man with any self respect. Unless new hope can be given them they face the prospect of becoming drunkards, beggars and parasites on society. And the principle underlying all this work, is to make the blind man feel that he is yet a self-reliant, valuable citizen of "La Belle France."
How it is working out a glance at the men in the various buildings clearly showed. Here was one group of men wearing smoked glasses feverishly manufacturing brushes; as they worked they whistled. In the next room another group was mending the seats of rattaned chairs; in the next they were making raffia baskets; in the next willow baskets, chairs and tables. Another lot was learning to set type for books for the blind; others were learning typewriting, piano-tuning, barrel making and boot repairing.
Perhaps the most interesting of all were the men learning to be professional masseurs: This is a particularly suitable profession for the blind because it depends for its success altogether on the sense of feeling, and these chaps rubbed and manipulated each other's muscles and joints in the most approved expert style, using one another as patients. Some of the blind graduate masseurs were already practising their profession in Paris.
One recent arrival was being conducted about the garden by one of the white clad nurses, who was evidently trying to comfort him in some of his bad moments. The poor chap looked heart broken and one felt, even though dimly, something of his Gethsemane as he realized that the glory of the sun and all the beauties of nature were no more for him,—that before him was only night eternal. Yet a moment afterwards when the supper bell rang the rattle of canes on the walks and the sound of scores of men whistling and singing as they came from all the buildings round about proved most convincingly that hundreds of others had gone through this same struggle and had come out victorious.
My visit to the Institute for the blinded soldiers was to me the most inspiring experience that I had in France, strange as that statement may sound, for it showed more conclusively than war itself the infinite capacity for courage that exists in almost every man. Yet the sights that we saw—so terribly pathetic—made one realize as never before the truth of the epigram "War is hell."
When we again passed through the gates of St. Denis on our way towards our "home" in the field, it was a sunny day and all the fruit trees were in full bloom, making a broad belt of white for three or four miles around Paris. With the exception of a stop at the cathedral of Amiens to see the wonderful old stained glass windows, unequalled by any in Great Britain, we travelled steadily all day without incident and reached our little home town near the Belgian border by five o'clock to find that all was well.
TABLE TALK AT A FLANDERS MESS.
"Look out," warned the Colonel as they stumbled along the Rue de la Gare, "there's a hole somewhere about here." The Canadian officers passed gingerly on feeling their way down the inky street. A Zeppelin had been over the night before and the lighting regulations were being strictly enforced.
Suddenly the Captain stopped, passed his hand along a brick wall, gave a pull at a wire, and a gong on the inside rang like a fire alarm.
"How in the dickens you can see in this darkness beats me," said the Colonel. "You must have eyes like a French cat."
The door was opened by Bittleson, and the three officers entered and walked along the dimly lit, tiled hall into a room at the far end.
"Home, Sweet Home," said the Colonel looking around the room. "It is the nearest thing we can get to it anyway, worse luck." They all threw their British warms and caps onto a large chair, flung their sam-brown belts on top of them and picking out their own respective easy chairs drew up before the fire, which was burning brightly in the French grate stove in the corner of the mess room, formerly the dining room of Madame Deswaerts. The whole side of the room facing the rose garden and pigeon cots was glassed in and the two huge French windows were, no doubt, a pleasant feature in the summer time; at present they admitted a great deal of the cold, damp air from outside.
"Rawson," called the Colonel. Rawson a little black-haired Jew, the Doctor's batman and temporary mess cook, entered.
"Yessir," said Rawson.
"Put some more coal on that fire; it's as cold as hell in here," grumbled the Colonel.
The fire was duly replenished while the Colonel took a cigarette from his case and opened his "Bystander."
"Do you know how to cook that canned asparagus?" asked the Colonel as Rawson turned to leave the room.
"No Sir," said Rawson.
"Well how do you think you would cook it?" asked the Colonel.
This was a poser; Rawson was evidently nonplussed.
"Would you boil it, Sir?" he ventured when the silence had become oppressive.
"You guessed right," and the Colonel deftly flicked a burned match up behind a picture of the local cure. "What would you do with the tough part of the stalks?"
"I dunno, Sir." Rawson was stumped again.
"Have you ever eaten asparagus?" asked the Colonel.
"No, Sir," said Rawson, "but I've seen it in the stores."
"Well, go and boil it for five minutes with some salt," ordered the Colonel, "and then serve dinner."
"Yessir," said Rawson, retiring to the kitchen.
"It beats hell," fussed the Colonel, "how ignorant that boy is; he hasn't a single ray of intelligence; he carries on just like a trained monkey; he never thinks, never."
"Yes, he does," contradicted the Captain looking up from a New York Journal received that day, "I actually saw him thinking yesterday; I could almost see the wheels going around; in fact, I imagined I could hear them grating, so seldom had they been used. It was really one of the most fascinating things I ever saw; you couldn't describe it but you could act it. The Doc. saw it too. Wasn't it funny, Doc.?"
"It was a marvel," said the Doctor. "I have always classed Rawson as belonging to the palaeolithic age and imagined the missing link to have about the same brain capacity as he has; since our experience yesterday I have come to the conclusion that Rawson is a 'throw back' and had normal ancestry. This is more apparent when we know he is never savage but on the contrary very gentle."
The conversation was interrupted by the entrance of Bittleson, the Colonel's batman. Bittleson had been deposed from his position as cook two days before for being dirty and careless. He now came forward with his cap on his head and saluted as only Bittleson could salute.
"Beg pardon, Sir," he hesitated with a deprecatory smile, pointing with his thumb to the kitchen door, "but Rawson aint really up to cooking stuff like this here sparrow grass—not yet. P'raps I had better take a holt."
"All right," agreed the Colonel, "are you sure you know how to cook it yourself?"
"Sure," answered Bittleson with an inflexion that spoke volumes as to his knowledge. "Why when we was at Salisbury—"
"Shut up," commanded the Colonel and Bittleson respectfully saluted and retired.
When the dinner was served we waded through our passable soup, tough roast beef with "frits" and waited with pleasant anticipation for the chef'd'oeuvre of the evening. The asparagus duly arrived and was placed on the table by Bittleson himself with something of a flourish.
"What the sam hill do you know about that!" said the disappointed Captain as all gazed at the plate full of white asparagus butts,—as hard as tent pegs. The tender edible portions had been thrown away. The Colonel turned to Bittleson but the latter was too quick for him and had already made a strategic retreat.
"What a mess-president?" said the Captain, "Eh, what, Doc.?"
"Go to blazes," growled the Colonel, "You can't get results without tools; pass the coffee pot." And they relapsed into silence for a few moments as they severally speculated on the number of Bittlesons they knew of in the army—in all ranks.
"Well, I wonder how long this blinking war is going to last," queried the Colonel. "No signs of light on the horizon yet; Fritzy is some sticker."
"I am fed up with the whole thing," returned the Captain snapping his cigarette butt viciously into a corner. "What are we out here for anyway; what are we fighting for; what is the whole bally business about; that is what I would like to know?"
"What did you come out for?" asked the Colonel. "You had a good position and a good future in your profession over in the States; something made you come; what was it?"
"I don't know what it was; chiefly a desire to be in the game and not be a quitter I guess; I hate the idea of my kids, if I ever have any, asking me what I had done in the great war. I went up to Forbes Bay to play golf and forget the war and suddenly found myself buying a ticket for Valcartier Camp and here I am." There was silence for a minute. "What did you come out for Colonel?" asked the Captain.
"For adventure," replied the Colonel. "So did everybody else; anybody who says he didn't come out here for some such reason as that is a damned liar; don't you think so Doc.?"
"I don't think I did for one," responded the Doc., "but I wouldn't be sure; I had every inducement to stay home if any man had, congenial work, interesting hobbies, the finest woman in the world, and I hate the military game; I guess there were lots of others like myself."
"Well, what in thunder did you come for; what was the big idea?" demanded the Colonel.
"The big idea in my case was that I thought I might be of some use in keeping our men efficient, in other words 'service,'" said the Doc. "What is more, that is what you and the Cap. both came for if you would only admit it."
"Piffle," snapped the Colonel.
"It isn't piffle, it's the truth," asserted the Doc. "Why do you feel sore now because other fellows you know haven't come out? If love of adventure brought you, there is no reason for feeling crusty because your friends haven't the same love of adventure that you have. Let them stay at home and mind their own business if they want to and can't see things as we do."
"Yes, but it's different now to what it was at first. Everybody knows we are in this fight to the death,—that if we are licked it is 'good-night'!" said the Colonel.
"You can't convince them of that in England—not all at once," argued the Cap. "The newspapers still construe every local success into a great victory, the great mass of the people think the war will be over in the autumn, and the strikers still strike!"
"Well, if they don't see the desperate nature of the affair in England how can you expect them to realize it in Canada?" questioned the Doc. "England has air raids, bombardment of her coast towns by German raiders, ships sunk by submarines and all the evidences of a nearby war. Of course she thinks she has the money and that money will win. I guess Germany hasn't much real money but she carries on pretty well without it."
"She is like America in that respect in regard to money—thinks that the last dollar will win," answered the Cap. "It won't, its the last big army in the field that can strike at a vital point that will win this war."
"That takes money," said the Colonel.
"Yes, but hang it!" countered the Cap., "Germany can print money and keep on paying; as long as the war lasts paper money will be honored; it has to be if the Government says so. Only when the end comes and there is no gold to honor the paper will the crash come: Germany hopes to be in the position to obtain compensation when the war ends. I believe that Germany is deliberately trying to ruin the Allies and particularly England by causing them to make tremendous expenditures in gold, which is the only thing neutrals will honour; then when we are weakened in both men and money she hopes to get in her knock-out!"
"As a secondary consideration she may be trying to ruin England because she has failed to get in the knock-out blow; that is more likely," reasoned the Colonel. "She has tried hard enough to give the knock-out both in the first rush to Paris, at Ypres, at Verdun, at the battle of Jutland, and by her Zep and submarine campaigns. Hitherto she has failed. Now I believe she is carrying on in the hope that we will become exhausted and quit; they don't know the English."
"Neither does anybody else," said the Cap. angrily, "they don't know themselves. They laughed at Lord Roberts and nearly crucified him: they laughed at the German navy, at Zeppelins, at subs and at poison gas, and they paid no attention to Sir William Ramsay for kicking against American cotton going into Germany to make explosives to be used against us. Now they are having a great laugh at Pemberton Billings because he says the air service is rotten and advocates the building of thousands of aeroplanes wherewith to swamp the Germans with bombs. When he talks in Parliament, they get up and walk out of the house. That is typical of the English people as a race; they are so intolerant and so d—— conservative that even in questions of life and death they won't learn. The aeroplane is a new brand of the service and therefore they won't take it seriously and they say Billings is just a blatherskite. But you know and I know that when sixty planes went over the German lines the other night they played havoc with certain cantonments. If so why will not ten or twenty times as many planes accomplish ten or twenty times as much? It is simply a problem in mathematics. But will Englishmen see that? Not much. 'Muddle through' is their national motto and they are proud of it. Thank God the Germans are just as stupid. If it was the United States they wouldn't play the fool in regard to new ideas, believe me."
"Rubbish," retorted the Colonel, firing up at the mention of the United States, "There is a nation with no sand; she hasn't even got gumption enough to know that other people are fighting her battles for her. She has a three-for-a-cent war on with Mexico and she can't raise 50,000 voluntary troops, while Villa sticks his fingers to his nose at them. Their only aeroplane was brought down by a Mexican revolver bullet; their fleet is a joke; they are the greatest bunch of bunco steerers in the world to-day!"
"Don't you believe it," replied the Cap. with deliberation, "I have lived in the U.S. for several years and I think I know the people. They have the makings of a wonderful nation. They are keen as mustard and without silly antique prejudices inherited from the middle ages. It is true, as a nation, they have something of a swelled head. But give them a chance; they will come up to the scratch some day; mark my words."
"Dollars! Dollars! Dollars! that is the American God," continued the Colonel, "like the children of Israel they worship the golden calf; they have no other ideal than to become rich, buy automobiles and 'put it over' the other fellows. The Germans spit in their faces every day and they say 'business is business' and take it. The Germans sink the Lusitania and the President sends a note advising them to be more careful in future and so it goes. Why, any decent man will strike back when he is struck by a filthy swine; even a worm will turn."
"He couldn't," objected the Cap.
"Why couldn't he," returned the Colonel. "What's the matter with him? Is he a jelly fish?"
"Because he is the chief engineer of the nation," explained the Cap. "He is head of a nation that is a conglomerate; it isn't yet fused; it contains fifteen to twenty millions of people of German origin. It is like running an express train. As long as the track is straight and the levers are left alone the engine will keep the tracks if he can keep his hand on the throttle and observe the signals. There are some bad signals up in the States. It is overrun with spies who know everything; the navy is in bad shape; the Mexican affair is on; they are nervous about Japan and they have no army. With a publicity bureau such as the Germans have, controlling many newspapers and magazines, the enemy can do a tremendous lot to alienate public sympathy from the allied cause, and until America is touched in the quick there will be no demand for a change of conditions."
"Then the President should lead public opinion," announced the Colonel.
"Yes, and bring down the wrath of the enemy upon him; just give him time; he hasn't got that jaw for nothing; he knows history; his opportunity will come and he will rise to it. Don't you think so Doc.?"
"I don't know," said the Doc. "I used to think he had tremendous reserve power; now I'm not so sure. The President, in my opinion, made his great mistake when he failed to make a dignified protest on behalf of the violation of Belgium's neutrality. The U.S. stood for great things in the world; she was the ideal of the smaller nations to whom she was the personification of Liberty. She fell down and to-day even France shakes her head or smiles behind her hand when the name of the United States is mentioned. Yet, I feel that we cannot judge because we don't know all the facts. The best men in the United States are with us heart and soul; they feel disgraced and degraded individually and as a nation because they are forced to eat dirt; they want to go to war for they realize the European situation. Yet, we can't tell what is going on behind the scenes in the United States; we don't know all facts; the cards are not all on the table. If we knew what President Wilson knows, we might judge, but we don't. For all we know Great Britain and the other Allies may want America to keep out. The Japanese question may be a very ticklish one. We don't know and therefore we can't judge; that is my opinion."
"What is the feeling over there anyway?" asked the Captain.
"It was hard to determine," said the Doc. "Apparently everything was going on as usual in New York. The editorials of papers like the New York Tribune and Times were absolutely the finest I have ever seen showing why the United States should be in this war. On the other hand the Hearst papers and many others were antagonistic; the middle West at least is pro-German, and the South is an unknown quantity. I met many thinking men who used to be very favorable to the President but who now curse him and his typewriter. Many business men had signs hung over their desks 'Nix on the war.' They are different from English people who through their press are leading the politicians and forcing the authorities to more strenuous action. The United States on the contrary seemed to be willing to place all responsibility on the shoulders of the President and follow him. Meanwhile, he senses public opinion and plays golf. He has more power than any man in the world to-day, far more."
"And you really think they will finally come in?" asked the Colonel.
"I think they will have to; there will be no choice," answered the Doc. "If they would only realize that the British fleet is the only thing standing between them and Germany they would become panicked. But they don't and while the British fleet protects them from the Prussian—who is out for world domination—they soak the British hundreds of per cent. profit on supplies. It is really very funny if you can see it from the humorous standpoint."
"It seems pretty rotten to me," said the Colonel, "for a nation to take everything and give nothing, while others fight for it."
"They don't know anything about Europe; they don't, as a nation, know what the war is about. As far as that goes we have nothing to swank about in Canada!" said the Doc.
"Canada has realized her responsibilities, anyway," put in the Colonel.
"Just exactly what she has not," contradicted the Doc, in turn waxing wroth. "What have we done anyway? Put four divisions in the field, of which two-thirds were born in Great Britain. We have somewhere about nine million people in Canada; we should get 12 per cent. of that number under a system of national service, that is nearly 1,100,000 men. They say we have recruited about 300,000 for service abroad. It isn't as if the rest were mobilized for war purposes—they are not. There is not even a home guard. There are tens of thousands of men around the streets of Toronto to-day who should be at war; I know a lot of them personally and they haven't 'bad hearts' either, or dependent mothers. They are just rotters, nothing else."
"Some of them who work for Red Cross one day in six months, throw out their chests and tell you they are 'doing their bit' at home. I saw red all the time I was back and a lot of them felt very uneasy when they met me. When I see these chaps here tramping in and out of the trenches day after day and think of those spineless blighters at home it makes me sick."
"Ottawa has no backbone. It hasn't nerve enough to do anything. Quebec holds the whip hand and Quebec is anti-war. And so the political game goes on while Canadian profiteers make barrels of money—blood money—out of munitions and food-stuffs. We make the most of what we have done but I believe that Canada's effort is a disgrace."
"Well what would you have?" questioned the Colonel, "Canada has to produce food for the Allies; she has to carry on; she could easily be ruined by conscripting all her men for active service."
"Nobody suggests that all her men be conscripted for active service," said the Doc. "What is needed is that every man should be working for the Empire. Whether it is in growing wheat, making munitions or fighting, makes little difference. We need everybody working for the common cause. There are plenty of men trying to sell real estate to-day who should be out ploughing land for wheat to keep French and British soldiers fit; there are lots of chaps who cannot fight or plough who can run a lathe in a munitions factory; there are plenty of women who could replace men on farms; every woman and man in France is working. Why should not Canada be doing the same?"
"Its quite a bit different," argued the Cap., with a wink at the Colonel. "After all if Germany won out it wouldn't make much difference to Canada."
"Wouldn't it?" demanded the Doc, hotly. "That is what a relative of mine said and I am only waiting for an opportunity to see the swine and tell him what I think of him. If the British fleet failed to-day do you know how long it would take the Germans to get over to Canada? About ten days! And about ten thousand German marines with a couple of naval guns would make Canada throw up her hands as fast as a footpad would an old lady in a dark lane. I would say that ten high explosive shells in Quebec and about twenty in Montreal would do the trick. That followed by the despatch of two or three regiments to Ottawa would settle the matter. The whole thing would be too ridiculous for words. The United States would mind their own business because the Monroe doctrine would avail but little without troops to back it up."
"Then what?" asked the Colonel, as the Doc. stopped for breath.
"Canada is the ideal country for a powerful German colony. I honestly believe they would prefer Canada with all its latent resources, its water power, great wheat fields, minerals and forest wealth, to any spot on earth. With their systematic methods, their thousands of trained scientists in all branches of industry, their tremendous capacity for work and resourcefulness, they would take a hold of Canada and develop it in a way that would startle the world. Germany has millions of surplus population that she would transfer to Canada for development purposes. She would have 100 million people to the south of her for a market and in ten years she would control the markets of the whole world. That is the German dream and there is only one thing that stands in the way of its accomplishment, only one thing."
"The British fleet?" asked the Cap.
"The British fleet!" repeated the Doc.
"I think you look on the whole thing too seriously," objected the Colonel. "After all we are not reduced to extremities or anything like it."
"No and that is the idea of every other conservative man in the British Empire," said the Doc. "They all hope that something will turn up before long, and fail to consider that while they hope the German works. Just take a common enough example of how the devils do work in comparison to ourselves. You remember those trenches that we lost in the salient for several days to the Germans. Well our fellows were simply thunderstruck when we took them back. They were remodelled, strengthened and put into such perfect shape that our chaps said they had never seen a real trench before. The beggars must have worked twenty-four hours a day to do it. Catch our fellows doing anything like that."
"What good did it do them? We got them back," laughed the Colonel.
"Yes, and did you notice the price we paid. Everything we got from them we pay the utmost for; they extract the last ounce from us; and so it will go on to the end. If they work twenty-four hours in the day we will have to do the same. You can't help taking your hat off to the brutes."
"Just about once a day," agreed the Cap.
"Or oftener," said the Colonel.
"Well, what is the end going to be?" asked the Cap.
"Personally, I don't think there is any doubt about us winning out finally, but the end is not yet in sight. We have not used all our resources yet because as an Empire we have not felt that we were up against it hard. But the British are coming to it and if the war lasts long enough Great Britain will be rejuvenated. She was getting pretty rotten before the war. Suffering is chastening her; I have great faith in that for there is no doubt that trials and suffering strengthen a nation just as they strengthen individuals. I believe a newer and greater Britain will arise out of the ashes of the old. There will be many problems between capital and labor to work out; there must be a redistribution of land; people will have to work much harder than they have ever had to before. But to five millions of men in the army of the British Empire a man has become a man once more. When men stand side by side in the trenches, while the German shells play upon them, the men of wealth, or education, or title realize that a shell does not discriminate between him and the workman by his side. The soldier knows that the only thing that counts is whether a man is really a man; when he has stood before his maker for weeks at a time in the front line, not knowing when his hour would strike, he realizes that there are few things in life that really count. He is going to take that point of view back with him into civilian life and he is going to put it into practice. He will have no fear of anybody. He will want to make a comfortable living but he will not, at least for years to come, adopt the old ideas that money or so-called position really count. Because he knows what really does count; he has had the greatest experiences and has felt the most tremendous excitement that can come to a man in life and a great deal of what would have appealed to him before the war no longer moves him."
"Therefore I believe that there will be a new understanding between the rich and the poor; between the educated and the ignorant. There will be a new idea of public service. These hundreds of thousands of people who have been helping in Red Cross and other service work will not go back to the old careless life, for they will have been moulded to new points of view and a new sense of responsibility. All this, of course, pre-supposes that the war will last long enough so that the nation as a nation will suffer. The profiteer must be shorn of his ill gotten gains; the taxes must be heavy enough to pinch everybody; the necessity to save in order to provide for others must come home to every man, woman and child. Through things like that and the suffering which has come and will come to relatives of the killed and wounded the nation will get a new outlook on life and a healthy one. I think we are now in the dawning of a new era."
"Sounds like a book," commented the Colonel. "Do you really believe that people will change? Personally I doubt it."
"I think so," reasoned the Doc. "The basis of all reform is education and the world is certainly undergoing a process of education right now such as has never been known in history. You have seen how quickly a city can be educated by going about it properly and we all know that the point of view of the world has undergone a tremendous transformation on nearly everything since the beginning of the war."
"Only Canada lags about two years behind. She doesn't know that a war is on. Far from here she pursues her peaceful way quite oblivious of the war. But the very fact that she is safe, that she has not been invaded, makes her moral obligation even greater than if she had been, because she is free to develop her industries normally and without loss. She can pay; she must pay. Canada's obligations are just as great as her resources; no more; no less. That is the viewpoint that posterity will judge her by. And if she does rise to the occasion she will go down in history as a real nation and with a soul."
"The Doc. is right," agreed the Colonel.
"You bet," seconded the Cap. "Some speech that—eh, what?"
There was a ripping sound in the distance, followed by the crash of an exploding shell. In the silence that followed the hum of an approaching plane could be heard. "Bombs!" warned the Colonel.
Bittleson appeared. "Excuse me, Sir, Madame Deswaerts presents her compliments and says would the gentlemen please come down into the cellar till the aeroplanes pass over?"
"All right Bittleson," agreed the Colonel, as they got up and strolled cellarwards.
ON THE BELGIAN BORDER.
Upon my return from Canada, while waiting in London for orders to proceed to France, I received a telegram to appear at Buckingham Palace on the following morning at 10.15. The taxi drove through the outer courtyard to the inner palace entrance and my coat and hat were taken charge of by a scarlet-coated attendant who gave me a numbered check for the same.
An equerry-in-waiting asked me what my decoration was to be, and he showed me into a large room with an immense bay window from which a splendid view of a magnificent park could be seen. The bay window was divided up by scarlet ropes into several sections, into one of which I was ushered. One of these was for the C.B.'s, and contained a sole occupant, a naval officer. The next sections were for the C.M.G.'s, the next for the D.S.O.'s, M.C.'s, etc.
There were eight officers in our section, the first six being generals. An attendant then came and placed a hook on the left hand side of our tunics, our names were checked over and we were placed in order according to rank.
When everything was ready the great doors leading into the room where King George was to invest us, were swung back and we slowly proceeded towards it. The first name was called and the naval officer stepped forward and disappeared into the room beyond. The next officer, Lord Locke, who was the first in line for the C.M.G. went next, and so they proceeded quickly until my turn came.
As I advanced I could see the King standing about twenty feet in front of a large window, dressed in a morning suit, and looking exactly like his pictures. As he hung the decoration of the order on my little hook he shook hands cordially and said "I am glad to give you the C.M.G."
Then he added, "Have you been with my army in France?"
I replied, "Yes, sir, with the first army."
"Have you been out there long?" he queried.
"I have been there for eight months, was re-called to Canada for two months, and am now on my way back," I replied.
He nodded, adding something I did not catch, shook hands for the second time, and repeated as though he really meant it, "I am very glad to give you the C.M.G."
I backed away a few steps, and retired by another route, feeling that this was the simplest and easiest ordeal I had ever gone through. It was impossible to make a mistake even if you had tried to and everybody was kindness and courtesy itself. An attendant removed the decoration, placed it in a box and handed it to me; another attendant handed me my coat and cap and I left the palace. "So much for Buckingham!"
Soldiers were drilling in the courtyard and guards sprang to attention and presented arms as I passed, while a policeman hailed a taxi for me in which I drove to St. Paul's to see the most beautiful chapel there—that of "The most distinguished order of St. Michael and St. George."
As I drove by West Sandling camp and through Hythe to take the morning packet back to France a cold raw wind searched my very bones. The channel was rough enough to make the windward side of the deck wet and unpleasant and the officers with which the boat was packed huddled into their trench coats and British warms trying to keep out the cold. The torpedo boat destroyers threshed about hither and thither in smothers of spray while away to the north the mine sweepers stretched across from shore to shore intent upon their never-ending search.
It was rough travelling on the road to the north next day; rain, snow, sleet and hail, driven by a stinging wind, lashed our faces during the whole of the trip. En route we called at General Headquarters and Army Headquarters to report, and arrived at noon in the little French town on the Belgian border which was the new location of our field laboratory.
The Major and Captain seemed glad to see me and escorted me to my new billet near the railway station; there was no glass in the windows and the room was very cold. The officers pointed out a big hole in the pavement in front of the house, made the day before by a German bomb. The bomb had killed a number of horses and several men and had blown the glass out of all the windows in the neighborhood. But the Major assured me that a bomb seldom struck twice in the same place and that, as the Bosches were after the railway station close by at the end of the street, the safest place was the immediate neighborhood of the station. As this sounded quite logical, I remained at the billet until summer time, though I never noticed any great eagerness on the part of my two officers to move to the vicinity of the station from comfortable billets in the centre of the town.
The very next day the town was bombed again and one "dud" fell in our back yard.
The new town was larger than our old one, but very uninteresting and very dirty in the winter months. The people were distinctly rougher in dress, appearance and manners than those in France farther from the Belgian frontier, differences possibly due to the effects of mixture with Flemish blood. The surrounding country was rolling and much prettier than that around Merville and it was a great relief to be able to rest the eyes with the diversities of a rolling landscape instead of constantly looking out upon a deadly monotonous level country.
The headquarters of the Canadian corps was in the town and the Canadians occupied the front line at, and north of, Ploegsteert wood, opposite the Messines-Wytschaete ridge.
For days and weeks officers and men kept calling to get the news from home in Canada, particularly about recruiting, and they would listen as long as I would talk. Favorite questions were: "What does the corner of King and Yonge streets look like?" and "How is Tommy Church?"
Among those who called was General Mercer to whom I had brought a box of candy from one of his office staff in Toronto and he stayed for half an hour while I told him all the home news. We dined with him that night and had a very pleasant evening with his staff, Lt.-Col. Hayter, Lt.-Col. McBrien, Captain Gooderham, Lt. Cartwright; the General was very optimistic as to the final result of the war, though he felt that it would last at least three years longer.
Our laboratory was now located in a school which was being utilized as part of No. 2 British casualty clearing station and the first visit I made to this hospital was to see an old school friend, Captain Cole, the medical officer of the Princess Patricia's who was there with a bullet through his lungs. The very first day after his arrival from the base after an attack of pneumonia he was caught by a sniper. He made an uninterrupted recovery and eventually returned to active service.
The British Army in France was steadily growing larger and troops were beginning to be shifted about to give place to new divisions coming into the line to train. A new division is never put directly into the firing line and given a section of front; that would be too risky. The new division is billeted in the area back of the lines and is gradually brought up towards the front. The infantry is put into the reserve and front line trenches by platoons and companies and mixed with the old-timers who know all the ropes. In this way the new comer picks up the routine of trench work very quickly, and, when the men have all been broken in, the division gradually takes over its section of front. In the same way the gunners are instructed in practical artillery work and the men in other branches of the service are similarly broken in.
There were rumours that the Canadians were again to move on to the historic Ypres salient and those of the old brigade were not looking forward to it with any perceptible amount of enthusiasm. Ypres had associations which a whole year had not been able to eradicate. Canadian casualties at this time were very slight; in fact almost nothing. "Plugstreet" was supposed to be the pleasantest part of the whole line, and to those who had been to Muskoka it seemed very much like home, for there were log houses and rustic gates and all the other accessories found in the wild playgrounds of northern Ontario.
"Plugstreet" was an easy place to approach since the woods prevented observation and motor cars could get right up into the woods itself. While standing in Ploegsteert woods by the car one day I heard somebody singing an aria from Faust; the voice was magnificent and evidently that of a highly trained singer who had sung in grand opera; I listened with great delight while he sang with the utmost abandon, and when he stopped, I watched for the owner of the voice to step out from among the bushes. The songster proved to be a cook preparing the evening meal. It was another example of the cosmopolitan nature of the first Canadian contingent, which had in its ranks men of every profession and walk in life.
Life was at this time becoming very monotonous for our men in the trenches. The mail was the one great event of the day.
To relieve the monotony of trench life all sorts of games were devised to pass the time. One unit had an intensely exciting morning in one of the trenches—racing frogs. Two frogs had by mistake hopped into the trench and were captured. Sides were formed and bets made as to which frog would reach a given point first. As their leaders with the aid of straws goaded their respective frogs into greater activity, the woods of Ploegsteert fairly rang with the cheers of the rival parties.
Early in April the Canadians again found themselves in the Ypres salient, as usual alongside the British guards. At St. Eloi they had had casualties amounting in all to something over 500.
The Australian divisions had arrived on the western front, and two of them came into our area. In length of limb and general "ranginess" they greatly resembled our own westerners, and walked with the freedom bred of a life in the open. Their usual question at first when they met another soldier was, "Have you been to war or in France?" They got the surprise of their lives when they found that life on the western front was far more strenuous than it was on the Gallipoli peninsula.
The British army was learning by hard knocks how to do things, and the truth of the old saying was constantly borne home to one that in the early years of any great war England paid dearly for her experience in blood and treasure.
The Fokker plane had "thrown a scare" into the air service, and there was a general demand on the part of the British public for greater efficiency. As a new arm of the service it was not considered by Whitehall with the seriousness it deserved; only the men who saw planes come over, hover about, and were in consequence heavily and accurately shelled shortly afterwards, realized what the command of the air meant. The air tangle, and the inadequacy of the air service became such a scandal that Lord Derby and Lord Montague resigned from the air board as a protest against the way this branch of the service was being bungled.
As a matter of fact the Fokker was never considered, by our men, to be a very wonderful machine, and we quickly evolved types that were superior to it in every respect.
Nevertheless these were bad days on our front, and for a while as a result of the enemy's air superiority we were bombed with great regularity. At Canadian corps headquarters, where we dined with Generals Alderson and Burstall one night after our own town had been bombed, they were very much interested as they had occupied that town for several months, and each officer wanted to know whether his former billet had been struck.
The same night German planes bombed Canadian headquarters fairly heavily, and also some of the camps and hospitals (the hospitals were all marked with huge red crosses on the roof). During the same period the enemy shelled towns, camps and roads far back from the front line area, making life in the war area on the whole very uncertain and very uncomfortable. It was necessary to visit many places under cover of darkness, so accurate was the German observation and shell fire during the day time.
For example: one Sunday morning we travelled from Armentieres to Ploegsteert by a road which in spots could be seen from the German lines, though screened by green canvas at such places. Just before we entered Ploegsteert village we were in full view of the enemy for a short distance. Instead of passing right through the long village street as I had intended we stopped for a minute to look at a well which was being used as a source of drinking water. As we started forward shells began to spray the road at the far end of the village at the very moment when we ourselves would have arrived had we gone right on. Naturally we changed our course and turned off at right angles towards home, while heavy shelling of the town continued.
Half a mile out of the village we met a civilian with his wife and little six year old girl, all dressed in their Sunday clothes, jogging along in a two wheeled cart to their home in Ploegsteert village, which was still being shelled. Why people should apparently discount death as some of these civilians seemed to do, passed our powers of comprehension; it never ceased to be an astonishing thing to me.
There was great air activity during that period on the part of the Bosches and with a reason. We knew that they were ready for another gas attack, for our artillery had burst a tank in the German trenches and the yellow fumes of chlorine gas had been identified. A German gas bag used for getting the wind drift was also brought in to us for examination, showing that the enemy was awaiting a favorable opportunity.
As I sat out in our garden in Bailleul one evening at the end of April reading "The Morals of Marcus Ordeyne," three aeroplanes like great birds volplaned slowly down from the clouds—coming home to roost—until they were within 100 feet of the ground, just clearing the house tops as they dropped into their nesting ground on the other side of the town. I could see the pilots quite plainly.
In that brick-walled garden, full of rose bushes in leaf, I sat and looked at the cherry trees in early blossom, and thoughts came to me of other gardens away back in Canada, where I had spent many an hour in the gloaming, while real birds and bats flitted about across the sky. I leaned over to breathe the perfume of a white jonquil and a thrill of emotion swept over me and almost made me dizzy—for the odour was one I had not met with for a long, long time. This variety of jonquil my father used to grow at the lake, and in the spring of the year on which he died some of the bulbs planted with his own hands were in bloom when we made our first trip up there; they had seemed like a sweet message from the dead.
I went to bed that night very homesick, wishing that the Kaiser was in Hades and the war was over. For a long time I could not get to sleep and an agitated rapping on my door made me start up quickly from a restless slumber. My window was open and the choking fumes of chlorine poured into the room while Madame rapped away, exclaiming, "Monsieur the Colonel; the asphyxiating gas has arrived." I slammed the window to, soaked a muffler in water and wrapped it over my mouth and nose while robed in a dressing gown, I hastened down stairs. My own gas mask, carefully placed in a corner, had been moved, and, in the dark, I could not find it. I gathered the four women into the inner kitchen and made them breathe through towels wrung out in a solution of ammonium carbonate, which we were fortunate enough to find, while we excluded as much gas as possible by wet towels placed over the cracks in the doors.
It was a most unpleasant experience. As we were nearly seven miles from the German line, it was quite evident that the gas must have been discharged in tremendous quantity to have reached us in the strength it did. I had visions of the Germans discharging gas for hours and killing everything that breathed for miles back of the lines. It was a horrible sensation to realize that you had been caught like rats in a cellar and would slowly die of asphyxiation. The gas crept in through the doors, and it was quite impossible to breathe except through towels saturated with the chemical solution. I wondered how the Germans would feel about it when they came over through a country devoid of all life and whether they would take the trouble to bury all the women and children and dead animals.
Breathing was steadily becoming more and more difficult, when suddenly the door bell rang. One of the girls insisted on going to answer it, and quickly came back to report that a neighbor had called to see whether they were all right, and that the gas cloud had passed. Never did fresh air taste so sweet to me, and I wasted no time in sending to a hospital for a set of masks so as to be prepared should another gas cloud arrive.
The streak of gas that crossed our section of the town must have drifted along some depression in the surface of the country, for a good many people in other parts of the town, particularly where the windows had been closed, were not greatly inconvenienced by it.
The gas was strong enough to kill all the young foliage of the roses and other plants in our garden, while closer to the front a number of horses were poisoned by it. Several hundred soldiers of British regiments were gassed and the Germans, under cover of the gas cloud, raided the British trenches in an endeavour to locate and blow up certain mine shafts. That they did not succeed was shown recently when these same mines on the Wytschaete ridge blew both Germans and trenches far on the way towards the eternal stars.
Other gas attacks launched by the Germans the same night failed to achieve any results; and in one section they managed to gas themselves badly. We reported the gas to be chlorine, and the post mortems of gassed soldiers carried out by Major Rankin, blood tests by myself to exclude other possibilities, and evidence obtained elsewhere, all indicated that the gas employed had been chlorine.
The New Zealand division which had come into our area, held the line in front of Armentieres. A small epidemic of suspected dysentery in that division took us through that town frequently, and we found it almost completely deserted. The Huns shelled it almost daily and had made the place almost untenable for civilians, though, as usual, a number of them hung on and did a fairly good business.
The staff of our laboratory had been reduced from three officers to two, and after a good deal of discussion, Major Rankin dropped out at his own earnest request and was detailed to the Canadian Corps to train for the position of D.A.D.M.S. To celebrate the occasion he gave us a little dinner, and invested heavily in nectarines, strawberries and peaches from the graperies. The occasion was only slightly marred by the popping cork of a champagne bottle crashing through a skylight and bringing down a shower of glass on the Cap.'s head, which bled profusely.
One evening after dinner as we sat with French windows opened wide to the warm evening air of late spring, puffing idly at our cigars, a most beautiful bird song burst upon our ears—a song that made us stare at one another in amazement; we had never heard its like before. It might be described as a bird fantasia—the notes covered a wide range of sounds and the effect was beautiful. Captain Ellis walked quietly down the garden path and got close to the cherry tree from which the trills and lilts continued to pour, but could see nothing. Mlle. C—— said it was a chantresse (songster) but that did not give us much idea of what it was like.
Every morning and evening after that, this indefatigable songster made music for us (or rather for his mate, probably sitting on her eggs) in the cherry tree on the other side of the wall. How we enjoyed listening to it! Many a time we tried to locate the singer in his leafy home, but in vain; the nearest we ever came to it was once when we saw a branch shake as the bird hopped to another limb.
One morning the brilliant bursts of song were lacking, and we missed them. Just before we left for the laboratory Mademoiselle C—— brought in a rat trap to show us, and there caught in it, was our little shy singer with grey dappled breast, its head crushed by the cruel steel spring. Evidently in search of food in the early morning it had hopped on the trigger of the trap and met its fate. It was one of the little tragedies continually occurring in nature; to the little bird-wife waiting in the cherry tree it was just as great a tragedy as would be the death of her husband to the woman waiting at home.
This was an eventful period in the history of the war for Canadians. A heavy bombardment all along the line from La Bassee to Ypres forecasted something unusual. My diary, unusually voluminous for the day of June 3rd, shows that I was greatly impressed by the occurrences of that day and had taken the trouble to write down my impressions at length. The following extract is a word for word copy from my diary:
June 3rd.—Awakened at 2.15 a.m. by agitated firing of anti-aircraft guns. Heard planes overhead and big guns going. Listened for a while and got partly dressed and went down into garden. Two British planes going up—no Bosches visible. Quite clear at 2.30 a.m. with low summer clouds. Slept till 8. Asked Rankin and Ellis at breakfast about bombardment; they hadn't heard it. Rad said 18 British ships sunk and Canadians had lost trenches—laughed at him.
Sanitary officer 24th Division called re beer used at Dranoutre taken from becque 3/4 mile below Locre sewage outfall. Also discussed lime treatment of sewage effluent, grease traps, etc., etc.
French paper at noon said British and German fleets had been engaged.
After dinner went with Ellis to Abeele, called on paymaster for money. Major said Canadians had had 2,000 casualties. The Germans started a 5-hour bombardment at 9 a.m., June 2nd. General Mercer and Brig. General Vic Williams were making an inspection at the time and both wounded; were last seen at 3 p.m. going into a dug-out, which was taken afterwards by Germans, and have not been seen since—probably captured. Lt.-Col. Tanner, O.C. Field Ambulance, badly wounded. In counter-attacks by 3rd Canadian Division—a good deal of trenches recovered—not all. Attack made on 3rd Division—General Lipsett now in command—and part of 1st division. 14th, 15th, and 10th Battalions, 1st Division, made counter-attack this morning—Toronto Highlanders did particularly well. 4th and 5th C.M.R.'s said to have lost 500 each. Last official bulletin about fleet—Queen Mary, Invincible and Indefatigable—battle cruisers, sunk. Also 3 cruisers sunk and one abandoned; 6 torpedo boats sunk and 6 missing. Germans lost one sunk and one damaged. Evidently the British fleet was done in badly, but the reason cannot be explained until all the facts are known.
Went to No. 10 C.C.S. to see if Ellis' brother of the 7th Battalion had been wounded—no news of him but arranged to have any information telephoned, and that he be sent for by Captain Stokes—saw the spirochaete of epidemic jaundice. General Porter there, and chatted to him for a minute.
On the way back we stopped at Mt. Rouge and saw the German lines.
It was a beautiful clear day with a tang in the air like late September.
From our little observation point on the top of Mt. Rouge we could see for miles on all sides. Over in front lay Mt. Kemmel, bristling with guns but not one visible with the field glasses. Beneath us and between us and Kemmel, on the road that runs from Bailleul to Ypres, nestled the little village of Locre, with its white walled cottages and red tiled roofs.
To the left of Kemmel the sun made prominent the ruins of Wytschaete—a village in the German lines. Just beneath Wytschaete one could see the German trenches, two lines of them, which showed like brick red seams in the earth and ran up over and along the crest of the Wytschaete ridge, which itself ran towards St. Eloi and Ypres. Between these German trenches and our own was a sandy waste—no man's land—scarred and churned by untold numbers of shells. Even the forest patches in this region were dead and slivered by rifle and shell.
To the left of Wytschaete one could see great bursts of brown, black, greenish and white smoke over a width of country perhaps 1/4 of a mile and a length of 2 miles. It was here that the 3rd and 1st Canadian Divisions were fighting with the Huns for mastery. Perhaps as we watched these bursting shells were killing our own friends.
The region of St. Eloi was cut off by the Scherpenberg Mountain and to the left of that again we could see with wonderful clearness the ruins of Ypres. As we watched, great clouds of dust went up at intervals from the square. The tower of St. Martin's Church, and the tower of the Cloth Hall to the right were clearly distinguishable.
To the left of Ypres again we could see spires of towns, and one town far away was right on the sea we were told, probably Dunkirk. To the right of Kemmel was the ruined tower of Messines in the German lines; to the left of that the smoking chimneys of Armentieres now also somewhat battle scarred, and away beyond it and a little to the left the City of Lille.
Thus we could see from Dunkirk on the sea to Lille, that fair city, well inland in northern France, and could follow the battle line from Pilken beyond Ypres to La Bassee. In that line we could actually see the flashes and shell bursts in Ypres, St. Eloi, Wytschaete and near Levantie. It was a wonderful day, and a view never to be forgotten.
It was a bitter day for us, and we had a bad evening discussing our hard knocks.
At 10.30 p.m. Ellis came back from the lab, with the latest report of the sea battle which has worried us so much:
3 Battle Cruisers sunk: 2 Dreadnaughts sunk. Queen Mary. 1 Battle Cruiser sunk. Indomitable. 3 Light Cruisers sunk. Indefatigable. 6 Destroyers sunk. 3 Cruisers sunk: 1 Submarine rammed and sunk. Warrior. 2 Battle Cruisers badly damaged. Black Prince. 3 other ships damaged. Defence. 1 Zeppelin destroyed. 8 Destroyers and Torpedo Boats sunk.
Hooray! even if above is not true.
The corrected report of the battle of Jutland was confirmed later and caused profound relief in the army. Why such a report had been allowed to pass and remain uncontradicted so long could not be fathomed. Those were very black days for the army in the field and many a man died with despair in his heart, convinced that what had been the greatest fact in his whole life—the invincibility of the British Fleet—was a myth. The British nation will take a long time to forgive the Admiralty for that unnecessary delay.
In that dark period the army in France, with the fleet destroyed, saw its lines of communication being cut, and the end in sight. I ran across Lt.-Col. (Canon) Scott, C.M.G., in a rest station the day after the correct report had arrived. His eye was blacked, his nose skinned, and his wrist sprained and he presented all the signs of having been in a fight, though as a matter of fact he had fallen from his horse while suffering from the effects of anti-typhoid inoculation. Notwithstanding his condition he had slipped away from the rest station that night and had gone up to the Canadian area to spread the good news of the naval battle in order to cheer up our men who were going into action. A German barrage had prevented him from getting up to the front line but he managed to have the good news telephoned in to the trenches. That was characteristic of the unselfish work of Canon Scott; he never spared himself and his thought was always for "the boys in the trenches." He is a great soul.
The Canadian losses in the St. Eloi battle were said to be about 6,000 and there was little glory for anybody and a good deal of prestige lost by many in that affair....
The death of Lord Kitchener off the Orkney Islands had startled the world and all wondered what catastrophe would happen next. The loss of Kitchener was greatly deplored by the French people who looked on Kitchener, the inscrutable, as a great mystery and one to admire and marvel at....
One day at Boulogne returning from leave after an uneventful channel crossing with some sort of Russian delegation, we had picked up our grips and started for the gangway, when the strains of a band on the dock became audible, and we could see a group of French officers waiting to meet the Russian delegates who were slowly filing down the gang plank. The band slowly played the Russian national anthem, and we all dropped our baggage and stood to attention. As the strains died away we again seized our grips and began to push forward when the band struck up the Marseillaise and again we dropped everything and stood to attention. After an interval of about ten minutes the last bars of the tune died away and for the third time we seized our things only to hear the strains of the British national anthem rising on the air. Again we dropped our stuff and smartly came to the salute like good loyal subjects though we heartily wished that the delegation had gone by the Archangel route, for we felt certain that the band would play the national anthems of Belgium, Japan, Serbia and Italy. However, like most things, it came to an end and we filed off after a delay of what had seemed to be a good half hour. It is strange how we were all keen to get back to the front to the work which we got so fed up with and would sometimes give the whole world to get away from.
The summer of 1916 was the period of the battle of the Somme and most of our interests hinged on that offensive. At the beginning of July the British began their big advance to the south and the fighting in our area consisted largely of trench raids, artillery bombardments, gas attacks, aeroplane raids and other events incidental to trench warfare.
A spectacular show occurred when the offensive began and the enemy observation balloons, hitherto practically unmolested, were attacked by our airmen with some new incendiary device with the result that nine were brought down in a few minutes in flames and the others were quickly hauled to earth to remain there for many weeks. Only occasionally during the succeeding months would a captive balloon ascend and then would quickly disappear on the approach of one of our planes.
Pens for German prisoners were under course of construction all along the front—a most satisfactory procedure from the psychological standpoint, as it seemed to express confidence in what the future was to bring. The capacity of the hospitals had also been increased from 540 to 1,000 beds, which also indicated business.
The Canadians were still in the salient side by side with the Guards and the latter used to cheer "the fighting Canucks" as they called them, as they went into the trenches. The only regret of the Canadians at that time was that they did not have the "Immortal Seventh Division" on their other side.
An attack by the Australians on our front resulted in casualties amounting to several thousands and the hospitals for many days afterwards were filled with cases of gas gangrene due to the men lying out too long in the open with infected wounds.
Divisions from our area would move out and go south to the Somme while battered divisions from the Somme front would drift up into our area. Among these was the Ulster division whose fife and drum band came marching gaily up the street, nearly every musician wearing a German cap. A few days later the south of Ireland division came up and the two divisions occupied the line side by side. Needless to say they fraternized in the best spirit while out of the line just as they supported one another while in it.
In the second week in August the first Canadian division came out of the salient into the training area preparatory to going down to the Somme, and the other Canadian divisions soon followed.
During this period a Canadian medical officer, noted for his self-possession, was proceeding along the road and came across a private soldier who had been hurt in an accident. At the same time a car stopped and a young lieutenant stepped out to see whether he could be of use. The M.O. examined the injured man and said to the lieutenant rather brusquely, "Is that your car?" The lieutenant said that it was. "Well we'll just put this man in and take him to the hospital in Hazebrouk if you don't mind," said the M.O. and without waiting for permission helped the injured man into the car. The lieutenant seemed to be quite agreeable and they drove to Hazebrouk several miles away.
The M.O. thoroughly enjoyed that drive; all along the road officers and men saluted the car deferentially and the M.O. acknowledged these salutes most graciously. Somehow or other the world seemed to be peculiarly affable to the M.O. and by the time Hazebrouk was reached he simply beamed on everybody.
As they drove up to the hospital there happened to be a General and a Colonel chatting to the officer commanding the hospital at the front door. Much to the M.O.'s surprise the General saluted first but as he made haste to acknowledge the salute, he observed that the General was smiling at the lieutenant beside him. Then, only, did it dawn upon the M.O. that the lieutenant was the Prince of Wales and his confusion was so great that he could never afterwards recall just what he did for the next three or four hours. He was heard to say that night that the Prince of Wales was "an awful decent chap and a thorough gentleman" and also that the Burgundy wine in Hazebrouk was of very inferior quality.
The work of the laboratory was very heavy from routine work of various sorts and an attempt to stamp out diphtheria from a Scotch division. Much the same sort of experiences as have been related elsewhere were encountered and we had entered upon the fed-up stage of life at the front. It needed something of extraordinary interest to rouse one's interest to any unusual degree.
At the beginning of September the three Canadian Divisions were en route to the Somme, while the newly arrived 4th Canadian Division came up to take over part of the line near the Ypres Salient.
The British and French were doing well and taking many prisoners on the Somme, as were the Russians on their front while the Roumanians began their offensive and swept far over the country much to the horror of the critics and everybody else.
There was great elation on the day of the big offensive on the Somme when the British first used "tanks." I shall never forget the thrill I had when we read a telegram received at one of the headquarters repeating a wireless message from an aeroplane observer to the effect that he could see a tank wobbling into a village followed by cheering troops. It was the first time that engines of warfare had led the way to an attacking force and the picture of the enemy fleeing before these new engines of terror spouting fire and destruction and rolling over trenches and machine gun emplacements, while cheering Tommies followed in their wake, will never be forgotten. We envied the air men their view that day and thought of how they must have thrilled at the sights below them.
We had been ordered to get out of our quarters in the school on October the first. After some difficulty we decided to build a hut for laboratory quarters and selected a field near the British isolation hospital. The view from the site selected, overlooking the rolling fields, with the Mt. de Cats surmounted by its monastery to the left, and Mt. Rouge to the right, is about as fine as anything I have seen in Belgium.
With the aid of a carpenter from the Canadian casualty clearing station, we built the hut, 40 feet by 20 feet, ourselves, and when I left for England early in October, it was a great satisfaction to feel that we were established in what a Surgeon-General subsequently stated to be "an ideal field laboratory."
On the way from what proved to be my last stay in France, we visited the Somme area and saw some of our old comrades. The Canadians had on the previous day suffered heavy casualties in trying to take Regina trench and we passed homeward through the tent covered area behind Albert with the knowledge that more of our old school friends were at that moment lying out wounded and dead in no man's land.
As we drove along the moonlit road from Albert on the way to Boulogne we passed company after company of soldiers trudging along towards the front; they did not sing. It was the 4th Canadian Division going into action—about to experience that great adventure of battle for which they had trained so long and had come so far to obtain.
Farther along the road we could hear away in the distance a song; we could not distinguish the words but we knew that soon we would hear "Pack up your troubles in your own kit bag and Smile, Smile, Smile!" They were Canadians coming out of the trenches.
 Our men have since been astonished at the wonderful view of our lines obtained from the Messines-Wytschaete ridge.
Air service, 237; battle, 88
Alderson, General, 94, 237
Advanced Dressing Station, 128
Ambulance, work of, 129; Field, Canadian, No. 3., 104, 108
Artillery, Canadian, in billets, 22; Shelling by, 158
Aubers ridge, battle of, 170
Australians, arrival of, from Gallipoli, 236
Band, British Guards, 173; Indian, 174
Bailleul, garden in, 116, 240
Balbaud, Professor Paul, 121
Barrows, Roman, Salisbury Plains, 27
Battalion, first Canadian, 117; third Canadian (Toronto), 70, 115; Winnipeg rifles, 7; work of medical officers of, 127
Baths, divisional, 146, 147
Bird life, Salisbury Plains, 25; the nameless, 242
Bombs, on Bailleul, 233; on Canadian Headquarters, 237; on Merville, 72
Boyd, Capt, 104
British officers, 66
Buckingham Palace, investiture at, 230
Burstall, General (C.B.), 94, 237
Canadian contingent, first, leaving Gaspe, 5; arrival at Plymouth, 9; Salisbury Plain, 10; sickness among, 19
Canadian division, first, review by King, 29; after Neuve Chappelle, 70; sports of, 74; German attack upon, 97
Canadian division, second, arrival in France, 123
Canadians in Ypres Salient, 1916, 250, 252
Canadian graveyard, 176; laboratory arrival in France, 65; work of (See 'Laboratory').
Casualty clearing station, work of a, 128
Champagne, visit to, 205
Channel, crossing the British, 232
Cartwright, Lt., 234
Chlorine gas used by Germans, 94 treatment of water (See 'Water'), 140, 155
Cole, Capt. Cooper, 234
Cock fighting in France, 73
Creeks, pollution of, 147
Disease, (See 'Epidemics'); "Carriers" of, 139, 142
Dressing Station, Canadian Advanced, 99
Dysentery, suspected epidemic of, 157
Ellis, Major Arthur, 68, 107, 164, 232, 242, 245
Epidemics, how spread, 136; lack of, in British Army, 134
Festubert, battle of, 118, 166
Fire fete of Merville, 180
Flowers in Spring, England, 57; France, 67; Experience with Parisian flower-girl, 194; in Bailleul garden, 239; in Merville garden, 121
French artillery, 109; front, visit to, 205
Foch, General, 106
Foster, Col. (C.B.) (Surgeon-General), 113
Funeral, a Canadian Soldier's, 116
Gas, original, attack on Canadians, April 22, 1915, 93; attack by Germans, Spring, 1916, 240; on Belgians, April, 1915, 111; masks, suggested use of, 107; poison, nature of, 94, 95, 107; work of laboratory on, 115